Per August Ölander was born in Linköping on 8 January 1824. He was a composer, violinist, writer, and critic, all on the side of his official career. He was employed as a civil servant by the Swedish Customs Service in 1847 and advanced to the position of controller in 1867. Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1864. His musical production consists of works in a variety of genres, including a symphony and an opera. Ölander died on 3 August 1886 in Stockholm.
Per August Ölander was the oldest of eight children born to Petter (Per) Ölander, schoolteacher, klockare (bell ringer and teacher in the church), and organist at Saint Lars Church in Linköping, and his wife Maria Catharina (née Landström). He received his first musical education from his father, and attained a certain level of renown as a violinist already while in Linköping, as his father had previously.
Ölander attended the cathedral school in Linköping and started his university studies at Uppsala in 1844. After graduation with a kameralexamen (a general degree including fiscal management) he moved to Stockholm where he lived out his life as a federal civil servant. In 1847 he started working as an acting chamber clerk at the Tullverket (Swedish Customs Service). In 1867 he was promoted to controller at the same agency. In terms of his musical career it is significant that Jonas Falkenholm, one of Sweden’s most advanced amateur violinists at the time, was the inspector general at the agency. Ölander and Falkenholm often performed as first and second violin in a string quartet together with Johan Jakob Agrell and Otto Munck af Rosenschöld. As a chamber musician Ölander was highly regarded and an important participant in the Mazer String Quartet Society, and its musical director from 1873−84. Alongside the pre-existing musical societies he started a ‘Symphony Society’ of amateurs, which in 1855 acquired permission from the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) to use their concert hall on a weekly basis (as well as their double basses) on the condition that this did not conflict with any of the Academy’s or the Mazer Society’s gatherings.
In 1853 Ölander married Johanna (Hanna) Maria Nordblom (1827−1909), the daughter of director musices and cathedral organist in Uppsala, Johan Erik Nordblom, in whose home Ölander had lived as a student during his time in the city. Ölander’s father-in-law was, apart from his own father, Ölander’s only real teacher. Ölander must therefore be seen as primarily self-taught, at least with regards to the larger musical composition forms (symphony and opera) that he attempted in his later years. His wife Johanna was an outstanding concert singer and singing teacher in Stockholm, and composed songs and ballads, including the melody to ‘Julpolska’ (‘Nu ha vi ljus, här i vårt hus’) to a text by Rafael Hertzberg. She also became a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien in 1872, where Per August had been elected as an associate member in 1850, and a full member in 1864.
Aside from his activities within the Tullverket, Ölander appears to have been an active and highly independent member of the Academy. He submitted, for example, a long and argumentative reservation against the appointment of August Lagergren, the harmony teacher at the Conservatory at the time, to the position of head teacher in organ at the Academy’s conservatory in 1880. Ölander felt that Lagergren was not nearly as qualified as the other candidates for the position, such as Elfrida Andrée and Georg Wilhelm Heintze.
From 1859 to 1866 Ölander was a music critic in the daily newspaper Stockholms Dagblad, which at that time functioned partially as an information channel for several government agencies. Ölander’s traditionalist taste as a musician, composer and critic is summarised well in an obituary in Svensk musiktidning: ‘In the sanctuary of the art of music he was a faithful temple servant […] and watched over it so as to prevent the new gods from repressing the old ones, for whom he had so long offered his burning adoration.’
Chamber music and orchestral music
Ölander’s string sextet (2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos) in D major is among the more mature products of his output. Characteristics of the decidedly classical style that pervaded Falkenholm’s inner circle are clearly noticeable here, as in much of his other instrumental music, although streaks of early romanticism reminiscent of Carl Maria von Weber are not absent. The work has a shorter introduction in A major, but the actual introduction movement is, as is the finale, in D major. Much of Ölander’s other chamber music, including a number of string quartets mentioned in contemporary sources, seems to be lost. These may have previously been preserved in the Mazer Society’s collections, where performance records are missing entirely for the duration of Ölander’s time as music director.
Ölander has written a symphony in E-flat major, which was performed in 1869 and likely the following year as well. It was also most certainly performed under the direction of August Meissner at a symphonic concert at Berns’ salons in Stockholm in 1872. The symphony is interesting and well written; it keeps to a classical style and is at first glance completely unaffected by the German-Austrian symphony repertoire of the time. The final movement, with long fugal passages, illustrates the technical proficiency an amateur composer in the middle of the 19th century could achieve more or less on their own. In addition to this symphony an overture to Mäster Placide (see below) also found its way into the concert repertory as an independent piece for orchestra. A celebratory march for orchestra written for the occasion of the newlyweds Crown Prince Gustaf and Crown Princess Victoria’s return to Stockholm in 1881 gained significant popularity and was published in several versions for piano by both Hirsch’s and Lundquist’s Publishing companies. In 1875 the first movement of another of Ölander’s symphonies (this one in F major) was played at a charity concert in Stockholm. The piece does not seem to have been preserved, and it is unclear to what extent this particular symphony was completed.
Vocal music and music for the stage
Settings composed to the Book of Psalms for solo voice and keyboard accompaniment, with the occasional obligato cello line, are among Ölander’s most widely spread and performed works posthumously. Long after the composer passed away, Nordic publishers were still giving out new versions. They are modest, singable and not so extensive, most certainly meant for both semi-liturgical and private solo performance.
Ölander’s Missa Sollemnis is among those works that received the most attention during Ölander’s lifetime. In the press it was also referred to as ‘Missa Catholica’, which illustrates the extent to which Roman Catholic music was idealised in the religious concert life of the late 19th century. This is emphasised by the fact that it is the offertory, that part of the service within the Lutheran cultural sphere seen as the most ‘exotic’ (even if its text is in no way problematic from a Lutheran perspective), which has become the most popular as an independent piece. Lundquist’s Publishers also published the offertory as a stand-alone work. The ambitious work as a whole elicited widespread acclaim and admiration by its contemporaries.
Ölander also wrote for the stage. His most successful piece was the one-act operetta Mäster Placide och hans elev, performed by Nya teatern in 1879. The libretto is a translation (autographed by the pseudonym ‘Turdus Merula’, ‘the blackbird’) of a French play, and has only four roles in Ölander’s setting: the nobleman Gaston (mezzo-soprano), his private tutor Magister Placide (bass), Placide’s godson, the miller Johan (tenor), and Rosina (soprano). The music has a light and simple style, but without once approaching the mundane. The piece shows no lack of compositional refinement and original ideas.
King Oscar II awarded Ölander an opera prize for his opera in five acts, Blenda, composed to a Swedish original libretto (by Ernst Wallmark and Ludvig Josephson), on its performance at Stora teatern on 25 April 1876. Stylistically and structurally the piece shows considerable influence by Giacomo Meyerbeer. Louise Pyk sang the main role of the heroic liberator who freed Småland (a province in the south of Sweden) from the Danish, but in spite of its award-winning status the piece attained little public success. In the manuscripts associated with the opera’s material there are scenographic details of theatrical-historical interest. Disagreement between the librettist and composer seems to have coloured the work, which is apparent from, among other things, notes on the final libretto from March 1875: ‘For the poetic whims and indefensible changes made by Mr Ölander I renounce all responsibility.’ The reviews in Aftonbladet and Illustrerad tidning are also harsh on the libretto, and the fourth act, with a dramatic courtroom scene, was cut just before the premiere performance. Blenda was performed an additional 16 times before 1879 and the main role was sung not only by Pyk, but also later by Amalia Riégo. The work has in later times been more highly regarded. In Alfred Rundberg’s Svensk operakonst Ölander is, along with Ivar Hallström and Franz Berwald, called one of three ‘knowledgeable and educated musicians’ who wrote for the opera stage, a flattering comparison for Ölander.
Ölander’s production shows on the whole a great proficiency and richness of ideas, and had he been given the opportunity to spend all his time and energy on music he would most certainly have become a composer of great significance, not least within chamber music. His symphony in E-flat major and his sextet are among the works most worthy of performance.
Mattias Lundberg © 2016
Trans. Nicole Vickers
Groβes Sängerlexikon, Karl-Josef Kutsch and Leo Riemens (eds), 2nd edition., vol. 4, München: Saur, 2003.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1983, pp. 165−168.
Lewenhaupt, Inga: ‘Teatermusiken’, in: Musiken i Sverige, vol. 3, Stockholm: Fischer, 1992, pp. 399−412.
Lundin, Claës: Nya Stockholm, Stockholm, 1890, pp. 304−306.
Odén, Klas: Östgötars minne: biografiska anteckningar om studerande östgötar i Uppsala 1595−1900, Stockholm, 1902.
Rundberg, Alfred: Svensk operakonst, Stockholm: Kultur och form, 1952.
Sveriges statskalender 1881, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1881, p. 470.
‘Ölander’, in: Svensk musiktidning 1886, p. 105.
Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek, Kungl. Biblioteket, Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Musik- och teatermuseet, Musik- och teaterbiblioteket, and others.
Summary list of works
Opera (Blenda), operetta (Mäster Placide och hans elev), works for orchestra (symphony, celebratory march), chamber music (string sextet), liturgical music (Missa Sollemnis, etc.).
Blenda, opera in fiva acts (Ernst Wallmark and Ludvig Josephson). Libretto published Stockholm: Bonnier, 1876.
Celebratory March (for the occassion of H.R.H. The Crown Prince and Crown Prinsess' arrival to Stockholm), orchestra. Arrangement piano, four hands, Stockholm: Lundquist, 1881. Arrangement for piano, two hands, Stockholm: Hirsch, n.d.
Herre Gud min frälsare, voice and piano/organ see King David’s 23rd och 88th Psalms.
Herren är min herde, soprano, baritone and piano/orgel, see King David’s 23rd och 88th Psalms.
Höstsång (‘Sent om en kväll satt jag vid stranden’), alto and piano. [Exists in a collection of handwritten manuscripts with the owner’s inscription ‘L.T.’ (‘To Miss Parenberg from P.A. Ölander’)].
I morgonens timma från klippans höjd, from Blenda (see below), voice and piano. Printed in a music supplement to Svensk musiktidning 1881, bil. X, p. 39.
Jag henne såg och aldrig än, from Blenda, voice and piano. Printed in a music supplement to Svensk musiktidning 1881, bil. X, p. 41.
Jag lyfter mina ögon, baritone, cello and piano/organ see King David’s 121st Psalm.
King David’s 121st Psalm, baritone, cello and piano/organ. Stockholm: Elkan & Schildknecht, .
King David’s 23rd and 88th psalms, for soprano, baritone, choir and piano/organ. Op. 7 (Stockholm: Björkman, Elkan & Schildknecht ).
Misericordias Domini cantabo, see Offertorium and Missa Sollemnis.
Missa Sollemnis, mässans ordinarium and proprium in Latin for choir, orchestra and soloists.
Mäster Placide och hans elev, operetta in one act.
Offertorium (‘Misericordias Domini cantabo’) for tenor and piano/organ, from Missa Sollemnis. Stockholm: Lundquist, .
Sent om en kväll satt jag vid stranden …, see Höstsång.
Sextet for strings in D major (2 vl., 2 va, 2 vc.).
Symfony in E-flat major.
Likely lost works
A number of string quartets.
Allegro from a symphony in F major (no. 2).